Thanks to your generosity, together we are helping young men home from prison transform their lives. In July, we held a very special Reentry Recognition Ceremony. We honored our participants in our Reentry Book Club and Job Readiness Apprenticeship, and celebrated alongside our members’ family, friends, and supporters. The evening was filled with joy, pride, and even an impromptu musical break courtesy of Free Minds member Mark. Thank you for making this possible!
This summer, Free Minds members have been working hard and making great strides in their journeys of change. 32 formerly incarcerated Free Minds members have participated in our weekly Reentry Book Club and Job Readiness Workshops, including sessions on topics such as legal rights, mindfulness, substance abuse, co-parenting, success on the job, public speaking, action plans, learning from mistakes, storytelling, entrepreneurship, and more. In the Reentry Book Club sessions, they have been writing and sharing poetry, reading and discussing the memoir The Cook Up by D. Watkins, and building a positive, trusting community.
National Criminal Justice Association Award
In August, Free Minds was thrilled to receive the National Criminal Justice Association’s Outstanding Criminal Justice Program Award for the Northeast Region. Our Executive Director Tara Libert accepted this award on behalf of the entire Free Minds Family at NCJA's National Forum in Long Beach, California. Thank you to the National Criminal Justice Association (NCJA) for this incredible recognition, DC Office of Victim Services and Justice Grants for their wonderful guidance and for presenting the award, and to all of our supporters for helping us get here.
Free Minds Members Reaching New Heights
This summer, Free Minds member and Poet Ambassador Terrell traveled to the Freedom Writers Institute in Long Beach, California, to participate in a 5-day training program for educators and others who work with vulnerable youth. Terrell applies the strategies gained from this experience in his work as a Poet Ambassador, mentoring middle and high school students in D.C.
Free Minds member Roderick graduated from the DC Central Kitchen’s Culinary Job Training Program, and was featured in the Washington City Paper. He is now working full-time in a restaurant. Well done, Roderick!
Aaron and Lorenzo graduated from high school in June, and are now preparing to enter the workforce. Congratulations Aaron and Lorenzo!
Thank you for supporting our book club and writing workshop for incarcerated youths! With your support, we mailed approximately 500 books to 200 members in federal prisons across the country. In addition to books, we also send a bimonthly newsletter, postcards and birthday cards, and one-on-one correspondence. Thank you for being an integral part of our members’ journey of change.
Baltimore Author Visits the DC Jail
Author D. Watkins (The Cook Up: A Crack Rock Memoir, The Beast Side: Living and Dying While Black in America) visited our book club with young adults studying for their GEDs at the DC Jail. The Free Minds members had read The Cook Up in preparation for Watkins’s visit, and came prepared with dozens of questions about the author’s memoir, including questions about the writing and publishing process, as well as his remarkable life story.
The Cook Up depicts Watkins’s journey from college student, to drug dealer, and back out again, in the wake of his brother’s murder. Now Watkins is a professor at the University of Maryland, founder of the BMORE Writers Project, author of two books, and Editor at Large for Salon Magazine.
The Free Minds members could relate to Watkins’s story, and he shared with them how reading a book he could relate to (The Coldest Winter Ever by Sister Souljah) had opened his mind to new possibilities. Watkins advised them on how to reflect on everything they read. “When I didn’t read, I had a blindfold on. When I started reading, the blindfold came off.”
At the end of the session, Free Minds members eagerly shared their poetry inspired by The Cook Up.
What I SawBy BobbyInspired by The Cook Up by D. Watkins
I saw, I saw from behind these white wallsA child gets taken from his life as his vessel fallsMothers cryin’ over their childrenIt was the worst feeling they ever sawWondering how could God let them downIncluding the lawThe smile and laughter of the good times they sharedThe feeling of regret at the time when they weren’t thereThat unbearable feeling deep downThat feeling they call fearNot wanting to feel the painOf their child not being here
The Cook Up Across the Miles and in Federal Prisons
Meanwhile, Free Minds members in federal prison finished reading March: Book Three by Congressman John Lewis, and are now reading The Cook Up by D. Watkins along with their fellow Free Minds members in the DC Jail. The books are currently on their way to Free Minds members in 46 facilities in 23 states. They are prepared with discussion questions to think about while reading. Read along with them via our newsletter, the Free Minds Connect!
The latest issue of the Free Minds Connect, titled “Inside/Out,” explored the dichotomy of the inner self and the outer self.
As one Free Minds member, DD, wrote, “It’s hard for me now to show who I am inside on the outside because I am in a place where that can be a bad thing or can be taken for a weakness to some. Sometimes the way we are perceived, help us and hurt us.”
Another Free Minds member, LB, wrote, “While looking at my face you would think, “Oh, she’s pretty.” You would never think she would get locked up, that she knows how it feels to be hurt. Though, inside you would notice my heart is my window to my past. The pain I dealt with, the beatings I took, when I was younger. You would notice my heart has a hole in it where all the good times fall into and you notice everything is around it. Outside you would see a face that smiles, but on the inside, I’m crying. I cry for the little girl trapped inside who couldn’t cry when she was younger. Inside I cry so much that no one really knows the true me. Outside I act strong and as if nothing could hurt me. I’m tired of crying on the inside! Crying on the outside, people notice not everything is peaches ‘n’ cream.”
Free Minds Co-Founder Kelli Taylor interviewed Carlos, a Free Minds member who has successfully transitioned back to society and works to help other returning citizens navigate reentry. When asked for his advice to Free Minds members serving lengthy sentences, he said, “Write. You all know the guy who writes for the Connect named HF? Well, I don’t know for sure, but I have the sense that he’s been incarcerated for a while because of all of his wisdom. He doesn’t even know the influence that he has had on me and my life. I remember so many times reading his words in my cell and gaining new understanding that helped me to change my life. Whether you share your writing in the Connect, or your poems at Write Nights, or even through letters to younger siblings or friends, you can change lives through writing.”
We recently received a message from Free Minds member AN, who has been incarcerated for several years and is now preparing to come home. AN wrote, “Thank you guys for everything you have done for me. This has been a learning experience. If I didn’t have books I don’t know how my time would have gone. Since I started reading, it has opened my eyes to the full literary experience. I think you guys have truly saved some lives.”
Thank you for helping us provide much-needed books and educational materials to AN and other Free Minds members!
Change blossomed this spring at Free Minds thanks to your support. Our Poet Ambassadors—Free Minds members home from prison who share their poetry and personal stories of change with the community—were nonstop! Poet Ambassadors presented and shared our message of liberation through reading and writing at the 2017 DC Prisoner and Reentry Symposium: State of Our Union, The D.C. Public Library Story Time Gala 2017, Youth Justice Forum: Justice for DC’s Youth, The Gathering: Open Mic with a Cause, DC Writer’s Workshop at Upshur Street Books,as well as our regular violence prevention outreach to 16 middle schools and high schools, 5 community groups, and 4 On the Same Page: Write Nights.
It was an especially uplifting season because we received the Renewal Award for Ingenuity from the Atlantic and Allstate. Free Minds was among five recipients selected from approximately 500 organizations nationwide. It was truly an exceptional honor. Poet Ambassador Nick spoke at the Renewal Summit. He said, “I want to thank the Atlantic and Allstate for allowing me to share my story, because I know it will help bring about a change. I hope people will treat someone from my experience with more dignity. That alone will give people from my background hope.” Free Minds would like to thank the Atlantic, Allstate, and the Renewal Project for this incredible recognition and opportunity to share the success of our program nationwide.
Our weekly Reentry Book Club, “The Build Up,” group continues to discuss literature, write poetry, share their own written work, and to support one another in the reentry process. The group has enjoyed discussing Jeff Henderson’s If You Can See It, You Can Be It and is now engrossed in The Cook Up: A Crack Rock Memoir by D. Watkins.
We are excited to report the expansion of our Job Readiness and Personal Skill Building Apprenticeship to a continuous learning and support network comprised of weekly skill building workshops, “The Build Up” sessions, paid work shifts with local businesses, personalized connections to jobs and programs, and the opportunity to give back through our “On the Same Page” community outreach program. Members meet every Friday to learn and practice concrete practical soft and hard job skills. Workshop topics include: entrepreneurship, mock interviews, budgeting/credit issues, life after incarceration, vision boards, and computer training. The group also went on a tour of the Martin Luther King, Jr., Memorial at the end of May. Thank you for making weekly apprenticeship workshops possible!
June kick-started the summer for Free Minds with a fruitful session at the Maya Angelou Academy at New Beginnings, DC’s juvenile detention facility. Poet Ambassador Terrell said, The chance to meet and connect with the youth in the juvenile system was very touching for me. I could see myself in them, how I was at their age. The talent and potential they have is really strong. I was so grateful to be able to be living proof to show them that there is another future available for them. They are lucky to have such a good school like the Maya Angelou School. I can't wait to go back."
Thank you for supporting Free Minds members like Terrell on their journey.